David Bremner (Principal Trombonist of the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra) discusses the benefits of playing in a brass band.
I recently attended the NZ National Brass Band competitions and couldn’t help but think throughout the weekend how far the relationship between orchestral and brass band players has come. I have had many teachers over the years telling me that their students shouldn’t be playing in a brass band because it is bad for their orchestral playing. Now playing in a brass band might be bad for your liver, but for your orchestral playing? I don’t think so.
As a student I always looked forward to band in the evening as it was a good chance to have a decent honk after often long days of rehearsing works in the school orchestra with long passages of rests. I found that band was a great chance for me to work on three aspects of playing that often needed attention.
Solo playing – Playing the trombone solo out of Phillip Sparke’s Year of the Dragon would obviously be approached differently to playing the solo in Mahler’s 3rd Symphony. Sitting in band was a chance for me to think about that style and how I could manipulate the music to get the most out of the line, which had a positive impact on the way I would look at orchestral solos.
Stamina – This is something we are always working on which was a constant issue for me as a student. Getting through a band practice was a real struggle, so using the band to develop that strength and stamina was really great for my playing. The key to this was making sure that I didn’t pick up bad habits on the way – I was always conscious of not changing the way I played throughout the range regardless of how tired I became.
Changing the sound and style – an often-neglected skill. Players often feel that the sound they make is the only sound they make. Well it shouldn’t be! You should have a range of sounds that you can produce; the sound you need to make to project in a brass band is very different from the one you would use in the orchestra. I have always enjoyed the challenge of adapting to the environment I find myself in, whether I’m playing with a jazz ensemble, a brass band or an orchestra, as a soloist, or in a small group where I need to hide in the texture from time to time. Playing in the band helped me realise that I couldn’t make the same sound all the time, it just didn’t work, so I found a way to adapt and develop my sound. This was the opening of a door in my mind to many other processes in my playing that I constantly think about.
So, is playing in a band bad for your orchestra playing? I absolutely do not think so. Playing in any ensemble creates a change of environment that is always a positive, you just have to find these positives and stay disciplined.
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